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09 Dec 21. Towards accountability and the verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme. Statement by Fergus Eckersley, UK Political Coordinator at the UN, at the Security Council briefing on Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Thank you Mr President and I’d like to thank Ms Nakamitsu for her briefing. We also thank Director-General Arias for his monthly report. And we congratulate him on his reappointment as Director-General last week, demonstrating the overwhelming support of OPCW States Parties for his leadership. We also welcome the adoption of the OPCW’s budget, which will ensure the ability of the Technical Secretariat, including the Investigation and Identification Team, to carry out its important disarmament functions.
This month’s report demonstrates yet again how the OPCW has attempted to discharge those functions, while Syria has again failed to engage on process, let alone on substance.
We regret that due to Syria’s repeated refusal to issue visas for the Technical Secretariat, the Declaration Assessment Team has been unable to deploy to Syria for many months.
As the Director-General observes in his report, the substance of the 20 outstanding issues with Syria’s initial declaration are a significant cause for concern, this includes the undeclared production and weaponisation of toxic chemicals, including nerve agents, and the unknown whereabouts of significant quantities of chemical warfare agents and precursors.
The Syrian regime has been found by both the UN and the OPCW to have used chemical weapons on at least 8 occasions during the conflict and the actual number may be much more than that as we’ve heard from others today. The outstanding issues therefore constitute an ongoing threat to international peace and security and a challenge to this Council’s authority.
The 30th November marked the annual day of remembrance for all victims of chemical weapons. We should take this moment to remember those Syrians killed and affected by Syrian regime and ISIL chemical weapons attacks. We cannot undo the damage done but we can and should ensure accountability for the use of chemical weapons. And we can and should demand adherence to resolution 2118 and the verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
Instead, significant energy is expended in this Council in spinning conspiracies and undermining the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention, all to protect a regime at the expense of the Syrian people and international security. If that energy was expended in upholding Council resolutions and persuading the Syrian regime to meet its obligations, perhaps progress could be made towards resolving this issue.
We therefore once again urge the Syrian authorities to take substantive steps to comply with its obligations. And we reaffirm our commitment to a Council united in ending the threat of chemical weapons in Syria. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Dec 21. Time for Guam Missile Defense Build-Up Is Now. There’s no time to spare when it comes to getting the tools in place to defend Guam — a U.S. territory, home to 168,000 Americans, and a centerpiece of America’s defensive abilities in the Pacific region.
“Guam represents the region’s most critical node for not just command and control but also logistics and for our power projection,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Sklenka, the deputy commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said during a conversation Monday with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. “It’s key terrain and it enables the success of our operational framework and its strategic importance can’t be overstated.”
Right now, he said, the Defense Department has committed about $11bn in funding for military construction projects on Guam over the next five years, and that will help ensure Guam remains a place from which the U.S. military can fight, if needed, in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Guam is a place where our combat power will aggregate and congregate and from which it will emanate,” Sklenka said. “From there we send a powerful strategic message to our allies and our adversaries that the United States has invested in this region — we prioritize the Indo-Pacific.”
One area that needs work, Sklenka said, is Guam’s missile defense system.
“Today’s missile defense capabilities in Guam are, as we know, only sufficient to protect against yesterday’s threats,” he said. “To defend Guam against the evolving capabilities … we require a land-based, persistent, 360-degree system. There’s no getting around that. The Guam defense system has got to be an architecture that fuses the most capable integrated air missile defense programs of record today and those that are developing into the future.”
Funding such a system, Sklenka said, is a top priority for Indo-Pacom, and has been for a while now.
“It’s been our top priority for the last three years going on four, and the past two successive commanders have gone on the record to state this,” Sklenka said. “They’ve warned all that will listen that the threat to Guam will only increase over the next five years. Those aren’t idle threats. Those are based off of events that we’re seeing unfold around us right now.”
While the Missile Defense Agency is a likely candidate to lead the development of a more modern missile defense system on Guam, Sklenka said it’s not important if it’s MDA or one of the services — of more importance, he said, is that it gets done.
“Our point is, we need something,” he said. “We don’t care whether it’s led by Army, whether it’s led by Navy … or whether it’s led MDA. What we’re saying is we need the decisions to be made, the architecture to be agreed upon, and to move out. Because this is a problem that we don’t have the luxury anymore of waiting and analyzing and assessing. We’ve done all that stuff. We’ve done all the studies, it’s time to move out, to get this thing into action. And if the best way to do that is to have MDA lead it, then let’s figure out a way to give them the opportunity to lead it.” (Source: US DoD)
08 Dec 21. Ukraine: Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held talks with Ukrainian counterpart in the face of Russian aggression. Strategic Dialogue. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today (Wednesday 8 December) held talks with Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “I was delighted to welcome Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to London following our productive meeting last week at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Latvia. The situation facing Ukraine today is one we have seen time and again from the Kremlin playbook. Russia is trying to destabilise its democratic neighbours in a futile attempt to exert control over them. The UK, together with our NATO and European partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We stand with our allies to defend and advance the frontiers of freedom. We call on Russia to de-escalate tensions and abide by its international commitments including reporting troop movements and returning to the table for serious talks. A Russian incursion would be a strategic mistake and subject to consequences. We are providing defensive military support primarily through Operation ORBITAL, the UK’s training mission to Ukraine. Since launching in 2015, we have trained over 20,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces.”
“The Foreign Minister and I discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in a number of areas and build stronger trade links. That’s why I am pleased to announce that UK Export Finance is increasing its support for British exporters in Ukraine to £3.5bn which will support trade in priority sectors including healthcare, infrastructure and clean energy.
“Trade is the key to unlocking the potential in our relationship and challenging malign actors together. We now need to turbo-charge trade between our countries, open up new opportunities for investment and support job creation in Ukraine and across every part of the UK.”
“Support for upgrading Ukraine’s nuclear energy sector is a win-win area. The UK stands to gain from our world-class expertise in clean energy while giving Ukraine the opportunity to reduce its dependency on Russian fuel imports.
“We will also start discussions with Ukraine on a Commercial Dialogue to expand and enhance our trade relationship, and for the first time have a dedicated environment to discuss ways to remove market access barriers that impact trade between our countries.”
“We will continue to work closely with our Ukrainian friends to protect our freedom, democracy and security.”
This was the first UK-Ukraine Strategic Dialogue, part of an agreement signed by the Prime Minister and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy during his visit to London last year. The aim of the talks is to deepen ties between the two countries to challenge malign actors, boost trade and invest in our shared future. A Joint Communique was signed and is viewable here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukraine-uk-ukraine-joint-communique (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
08 Dec 21. Preventing sexual violence in conflict: joint statement, November 2021. The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Liberia gave a joint statement on preventing sexual violence in conflict.
Statement by the governments of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Liberia:
The scale of sexual violence in conflict is appalling. In conflicts around the world women and girls continue to face horrific sexual violence. Progress has been made to support survivors and strengthen accountability, but sexual violence continues to be used in conflict. We need a stronger international response for all affected by sexual violence in conflict, the vast majority of whom are women and girls.
We condemn the use of sexual violence and rape as weapons of war as a ‘red line’ akin to chemical weapons. We are determined to strengthen the international response and build a new consensus to prevent these atrocities, exploring all options for further international action, including the possibility of a new international convention. Together, we will support survivors, hold the perpetrators to account and put an end to these heinous acts.
By December 2021 the following countries also signed up to the joint statement: Czech Republic, Greece and Malta. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
06 Dec 21. What can the world expect in 2022? The concept of collective defense is gaining momentum. The possibility of unilaterally responding to an adversary — particularly if that adversary is as advanced as Russia — appears to be out of the question for the West.
This year’s Outlook project, which focuses on national security expectations for the coming year, includes contributions from defense ministers, alliance leaders, government directors, military officers, industry executives and analysts.
Naturally, Russia and China are top of mind, and while perspectives from those nations are rare in American media, the director general of Russian firm Almaz-Antey — the 20th largest defense company in the world, according to this year’s Top 100 rankings — weighs in on conflicts in new domains.
All of the authors illustrate how they see the current geopolitical situation as well as what they expect to come. For the Western-aligned writers, that means a focus on multilateral cooperation, which is already critical among all domains – land, air, sea, space and cyberspace.
From a NATO perspective, Russia is either directly testing alliance members along the bloc’s eastern front, or it’s putting pressure on those countries by proxy (look no further than the Belarus-Poland border crisis).
In the Indo-Pacific region, China’s ever-growing influence and military presence has Australia playing catch-up. Defence Minister Melissa Price warns that her country’s “strategic environment is deteriorating more rapidly than anticipated.”
Circling back to Russia, the director general of Almaz-Antey points to the United States’ proliferation of unmanned and space-based technology as a sign that future conflicts will more often play out close to or above our atmosphere.
However, one could argue Russia’s use of an anti-satellite weapon in November, which reportedly created more than 1,500 pieces of space debris, is accelerating the militarization of space.
For its part, industry leaders want their government customers to know that if their militaries are to have the most advanced technology available, they need to remember that innovation doesn’t come free.
So what to expect in 2022?
It’s always impossible to know, and this year it’s partly due to the unpredictability of certain international actors. But from the tone of these essays and the threats presented, it’s easy to surmise industry will get the capital it’s seeking. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
06 Dec 21. Is there a geopolitical undercurrent stirring tensions in the Solomon Islands? Is the Solomon Islands the latest among a swathe of Indo Pacific nations to fall victim to a broader geopolitical struggle in the region?
Late last month, the Commonwealth government accepted a formal request for assistance from the Solomon Islands government under the 2017 Bilateral Security Treaty, agreeing to provide urgent military assistance. Royal Australian Air Force aircraft deployed from Canberra to provide airlift for members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Approximately 40 personnel from Army’s 3rd Brigade, 6th Brigade and 17th Brigade also departed Townsville for Honiara, the island nation’s capital. AFP and ADF elements were tasked with supporting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in defusing tensions and stabilising the region. A Royal Australian Navy vessel was also deployed to the Solomon Islands to support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force with maritime security operations. This followed an outbreak of violent protests, reportedly sparked by the government’s decision to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has defended the decision, claiming it puts the Solomon Islands on the “right side of history”.
Opposition MPs in Honiara and Daniel Suidani, Premier of Malaita, continue to voice strong opposition to the move.
Suidani has continued to forge ties with counterparts in Taiwan, while also gathering increased support for an anti-China stance among the general public.
His stance has garnered support from the US, which provided US$25m in development assistance to Malaitan provincial authorities in 2020.
Suidani has explicitly linked the outbreak in violence to the recalibration of the diplomatic relationship between the Solomon Islands and China, as well as the government’s infrastructure policy.
Prime Minister Sogavare, however, has accused “foreign powers” of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
According to Mihai Sora, project director, Australia-PNG Network at the Lowy Institute, this “volatile mix” of tensions again illustrates the impact of regional geopolitical competition on smaller nations like the Solomon Islands.
Sora points to China’s concerted effort to stamp out formal support for Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific.
“China’s interest in the Pacific stems from its ambition to establish itself as the regional hegemon and its long-time objective of eliminating diplomatic support for Taiwan in the region,” Sora writes in a piece originally published by The Guardian.
“With the switch of Solomon Islands and Kiribati in 2019, Taiwan has four diplomatic partners left in the Pacific – the Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru and Tuvalu – out of 15 worldwide. This would be greatly concerning to Taiwan and the US.”
However, these overarching tensions, he adds, have been infused into the historic rift between Malaita and the central government of the Solomon Islands.
“The broader context of uneven distribution of economic development across the country, and particularly Malaita’s relative lack of development compared to Guadalcanal where the capital is located, has been a sore point for decades and is widely regarded as having been at the root of Solomon Islands’ internal conflict from 1998 to 2003 known as ‘the tensions’,” Sora continues.
“This long-standing structural conflict was visible in how the protests started. Early reports on Wednesday indicated the protesters were primarily drawn from Malaita, and their demands were expressed along ethnopolitical lines.”
But Sora notes that as the violence escalated, a “cascade of other local frustrations” rose to the surface, with no singular identifiable grievance evident.
Other segments of Honiara’s community, he adds, began to participate in the unrest, including the Guales, who were looting alongside Malaitans.
“The protests rapidly morphed from a provincial-national feud to a violent release of pent-up angst over daily hardships exacerbated by the global health and economic impacts of COVID,” Sora writes.
“These hardships are felt acutely in vulnerable developing countries such as Solomon Islands, with the repeated imposition of states of emergency, perennial resentment at perceived corruption and brazen chicanery among MPs, and a predominantly young population frustrated with a lack of education and job opportunities.
“This mix of current frustrations exists independently of the Taiwan/China switch. So too does the Malaita-central government tension.”
But Sora points out that in a community already sensitised to foreign interference, perceptions of manipulation gained traction, “absorbed into existing grievances”.
The analyst notes that Canberra would have been aware of the optics associated with the deployment of Australian troops and federal police in the midst of violent protests in Honiara.
However, given the urgency of the security situation and the risk of deeper conflict, an intervention was warranted.
“The deployment has been carefully calibrated to minimise unsettling echoes of the past, and at the same time being substantial enough to restore order across the city,” he writes.
“The early intervention greatly reduces the lasting damage to stability and the long-term costs of the unrest.”
Sora concludes: “The roots of the conflict, however, can only be addressed when all parties in Solomon Islands begin to discuss a political settlement that acknowledges past grievances while setting out a path forward.” (Source: Defence Connect)
04 Dec 21. US intelligence-sharing convinces allies of Russian threat to Ukraine. Sceptical capitals including Berlin persuaded of the need to draw up threat of robust sanctions. EU and Nato allies have swung behind the Biden administration’s assessment that Russia may be poised to invade Ukraine following unprecedented sharing of US intelligence on Moscow’s military preparations. Weeks of sustained US diplomatic engagement with European governments, backed by a sharing of intelligence normally reserved for its closest allies, have helped convince some previously sceptical capitals, including Berlin, that the Kremlin could soon order its troops into Ukraine. The effort has galvanised support for the need for robust sanctions threats to deter the Kremlin. Joe Biden will warn Vladimir Putin against any invasion in a planned video summit on Tuesday, with the full backing of Nato and the EU for retaliatory measures, European defence and security officials told the Financial Times. Russia could be planning to invade Ukraine “as soon as early 2022”, a Biden administration official said on Friday, adding that half the military units that would be involved in such an offensive had arrived near Ukraine’s border over the past month. The US decision to share its intelligence among European states and issue public warnings stems from Washington’s hope that by cementing western support for sanctions, it would underline to Moscow the costs of any aggression. The details of threatened sanctions and other countermeasures are still under discussion. Many allies were not convinced that serious things were happening Nato official The Kremlin has consistently denied that it plans to invade Ukraine and has blamed increasing tension on US and Nato support for Kyiv. US intelligence reports depicting Russian military deployments along the border, evidence of possible attack preparations and analysis of the Kremlin’s perceived intentions were shared bilaterally and collectively with Nato members and through EU diplomatic channels, officials briefed on the documents told the FT. The quantity of material and detail shared among the other 29 Nato allies was described by one official as “extremely comprehensive”.
The uncharacteristic level of intelligence-sharing was prompted by initial reluctance from some European allies to treat US claims of Russian preparations for an invasion as credible, four of the officials said. The disclosure of previously secret details began in early November ahead of a meeting of Nato ministers last week, which was subsequently dominated by discussions about Ukraine. The intelligence helped shift the conversation from whether the warning was correct to how to best deter it. Ukraine conflict ‘We are one people’: Russia bemoans Ukraine’s ‘separate path’ “Many allies were not convinced that serious things were happening,” said a second official. “We were surprised about this [intelligence] gap — how and why the US were seeing things that we were not seeing.” “If I have to compare soundbites from before this info and then [at the Nato meeting] in Riga, there was a big shift towards the US version of things,” the official added. Biden said on Friday that he was preparing a “comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives” to deter Russian aggression. “We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion,” he said of the upcoming call with Putin.
The US said Russia had made preparations to deploy 100 battalion tactical groups totalling an estimated 175,000 military personnel at various strategic locations along the Ukrainian border, backed by 100,000 reservist troops. Russian troops invaded Georgia in 2008, and invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. The Kremlin has supported pro-Moscow separatists that have fought a seven-year war against Ukrainian government forces in Donbas, a border region with Russia. Recommended Rachman Review podcast23 min listen Is Russia on the brink of war with Ukraine? In April, Russia rapidly and without warning moved 100,000 troops from other parts of the country to its border region with Ukraine alongside tanks, aircraft, naval forces, field hospitals and electronic warfare equipment, spooking Kyiv and western capitals. Some of those troops were eventually returned to their bases. Some EU states and Nato members that have called for dialogue with Moscow rather than confrontation have cited that de-escalation as evidence that Russia would not embark on a full invasion unless provoked. But the US intelligence on the recent troop deployments has shifted that analysis. The US and the EU have “the same coherent message . . . to show the price Putin will pay” for any action against Ukraine, a third European official said. “Some European states who were not reading the moves from Putin [in the same way that the US was] in terms of intentions, now are.” (Source: FT.com)
03 Dec 21. Cementing ties with France, UAE places $19bn order for warplanes, helicopters. The United Arab Emirates ordered 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters on Friday, deepening economic and political ties with France through an arms contract worth 17bn euros ($19.20bn). The largest ever overseas sale of the French warplane was sealed as French President Emmanuel Macron began a two-day trip to the Gulf, during which he will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“These contracts are important for the economy and create jobs in France. What is good for French men and women, I defend ardently,” Macron told reporters, dismissing concerns by activists that French arms sales in the Gulf were fuelling conflicts in the region.
The French presidency said the deal, signed at a ceremony between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ) and Macron on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020, is worth $19bn.
The first French warplanes will be delivered from 2027, officials, and would create some 7,000 jobs.
Macron’s visit comes at a time when Gulf Arab states have voiced uncertainty about the United States’ focus on the region even as they seek more weapons from their key security ally.
The French leader has forged a good relationship with MBZ with investments flowing between the two countries. Paris has a permanent military base in the Emirati capital.
Shares in Dassault Aviation SA, the Rafale’s maker, rose more than 9%.
It is the biggest bulk purchase of the Dassault-made Rafale, other than by the French army, and comes after deals in Greece, Egypt and Croatia this year.
Abu Dhabi also ordered 12 Caracal helicopters. It is the French code name for the H225M, the multirole military version of the Super Puma.
The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets took more than a decade with Abu Dhabi publicly rebuffing France’s offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011 as “uncompetitive and unworkable”. Abu Dhabi already has French-built Mirage 2000 warplanes.
“This French commitment in the region, this active cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the clear positions we have taken mean that we have increased our proximity to the UAE,” Macron said.
“And at a time when they undoubtedly asked themselves more questions about other historical partners … I think that this strengthens France’s position,” he said referring to the United States.
Defence sources said the Rafale would replace the Mirage 2000 fleet but is unlikely to displace the American-built F-35 as the UAE continues to hedge its security with two major suppliers, France and the United States.
The deal could nonetheless be seen as a signal of impatience as the U.S. Congress hesitates on approving an F-35 deal amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei (HWT.UL) 5G technology in the country.
“That says a lot about the extraordinary aura that Abu Dhabi has acquired over Paris’ ideological and strategic thinking — It is the first time that a close U.S. partner in the Arab world will rely more on French technology than American technology,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Paris is one of the UAE’s main arms’ suppliers, but it has faced increasing pressure to review its sales because of the conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“France is going ahead with these sales despite the UAE playing a leading role in the atrocity-marred military operations led by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “The French president should denounce the human rights violations in these three counties. ($1 = 0.8856 euros) (Source: Reuters)
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